Monday, January 13, 2003

Rock Shows of Note LII
Arriving back in Boston yesterday around 4:30 p.m., I was pleased that the Boston Chamber Music Society performance didn't start until 7:30. That gave me plenty of time to drop my suitcase off at home, head to Harvard Square for a quick visit to the Picnic, where Cheryl told me about the Art Club that she and TD have been organizing -- and to Charlie's, where I had my customary grilled cheese sandwich. Disappointed that Charlie's has stopped tapping both Red Hook ESB and Harpoon IPA now (my two favorite beers), I sought solace at the record store before making my way to Sanders Theatre at Harvard.

Part of me wanted to head home. That part exerted itself especially strongly after a relatively lackluster performance of Frederick Chopin's Cello Sonata in G minor. But I stuck it out through the intermission and was quite pleased in the end.

Opening the show, cellist and artistic director Ronald Thomas was joined by Randall Hodgkinson on piano, Fenwick Smith on flute, Dean Anderson on percussion, and Sandra Laub as narrator. The piece: Earl Kim's "Dear Linda," which was based on a letter Anne Sexton wrote her daughter while on a flight to St. Louis. Laub's recitation was clear and resonant, and I was impressed by the cyclical rough bowing in the beginning of the piece. Anderson's tympani, xylophone, and snare added a nice texture to the work, as well. The token "modern" piece of music on tonight's program -- the fellow behind me commented, "But he always goes back to the 19th century, doesn't he?" -- this is the kind of stuff that's going to keep me coming back.

Because the second piece, Chopin's cello sonata, was relatively boring. Perhaps it was the performance -- everyone other than Ruggero Allifranchini seemed a little low energy last night -- or perhaps Chopin's just not my bag, but this almost chased me away at intermission. I find it slightly odd that Thomas would showcase himself so -- the sonata consists solely of cello and piano -- when he's so front and center anyway. I don't come for the cello and cello alone. More small-group settings! More strings on strings! That said, there was some impressively quiet bowing at the end of the Largo, and the dual tones in the Finale were also worth catching. But on the whole? Not that great.

So, as I said, I almost left at intermission. I was getting antsy. I had stuff to do at home. And even though I had most of the row to myself this time -- last time it was pretty close -- I felt a little claustrophobic and needing to move. But I stuck it out. And Robert Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat made me glad I did. Hodginson continued to impress on the piano -- he's a solid player -- and Marcus Thompson joined Thomas on viola. The real bright spot here, however, was guest musician Ruggero Allifranchini. While most everyone else in the society is largely dead in their chairs, playing with little drama or motion -- and Thompson almost puddling in his chair -- Allifranchini brought an energy and a presence to the stage that the society needs more of. Sitting on the edge of his seat, as he would bow upward-moving passages, he'd tense his legs, rising in the chair with the music. No one else in the society seems to feel the music so, and the music is stronger for being felt.

Clearly, though, he's not all flash and dash. His playing ably led Thomas and Thompson -- in this setting, it was clear that Allifranchini was in control -- and I particularly appreciated the Allegro, Scherzo, and Finale. I know nothing about Schumann outside of what Steven Ledbetter penned for the program, but I'd like to hear more -- and this piece saved the society's Chopin bacon.

Soundtrack: Good Charlotte, "The Young and the Hopeless"

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